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Research & Innovation

For Grace Wang, the world can be excitingly simple

Atoms, molecules, curiosity, innovators — this executive vice president sees Ohio State as fertile ground for growing discoveries.

Portrait of Grace Wang

Grace Wang joined The Ohio State University in 2020 as executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge. (Photo by Logan Wallace)

The 9-year-old girl was lost in her book again. With each page turn, stories about the discoveries of elements on the periodic table unfurled before her.

Grace Wang was fascinated by the origins of the 108 elements known at that time. More importantly, it was dawning on her that all materials could be broken down into molecules and atoms.

“The world can be very complex,” she says, “but it also can be very simple, especially when you break it down to each element.”

As Ohio State’s executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge, Wang views the complexities of the world and sees solutions emerging from partnerships between universities and industry. Solutions forged from elements: people, curiosity and a drive to better society.

  • Some say a university’s primary mission is to educate. What do you say?

    The university is not only the place to deliver the knowledge. It’s also the place that produces the knowledge. People will say, “This is education, and this is research.” But we can never separate the two, particularly when we are a leading research university. We must provide students with the latest knowledge, technology and methodology.

    We talk about three things as a land-grant university: research, education and serving the community.

  • A new Innovation District — where disciplines, ideas and people will converge and startups will thrive — fits that idea. Why is it vital to Ohio State and Ohio?

    It’s a transformative time at Ohio State, and these 270 acres on West Campus are a big part of our transformation.

    The Innovation District will offer us the knowledge creation, research output, creative expression, scholarly study and the impact, which we will generate in partnership with industry. That can help us grow as a university and grow the Ohio economy.

    Ohio State has the capacity to cover everything from food, nutrition and determinants of health to medicine, therapeutics and vaccines. And much more.

    It’s hard to deliver impact with one project. We deliver impact by systematically, persistently, consistently working on something that’s relevant — like food insecurity, reducing the cost of health care or cancer engineering. All of these take long-term, large-scale, high-impact research. We have the scale. We have the scope.

  • Partnerships are part of that, too. Can you talk about JobsOhio’s $100 million investment in the Innovation District?

    One of our goals is to increase the number of STEM graduates in the next 15 years. Another is to significantly increase our research awards in life sciences and biomedical research.

    There is a synergy here. As a university, we want to make sure the talent pool we cultivate meets the demands of the areas in which Ohio needs to grow — computer science, computational science, bioinformatics, life sciences. Those are some of the fastest-growing industry sectors, and it goes well with what we want to offer the state and the nation.

    The economic growth in Ohio, in many ways, counts on how well we can cultivate the talent and how well industry can offer those graduates job opportunities and make sure they will stay and thrive.  

  • The university is putting greater emphasis on startups. What’s your vision?

    Starting a company is not for everybody, but it can be for many students. The world is in front of them, and entrepreneurship should be a viable path that we empower for students, and then support and nurture them. President [Kristina M.] Johnson has announced a new program to beef up accelerator activities as well as a new entrepreneurs initiative to support at least six student entrepreneurs each year.

    Outside Ohio State, with all the key stakeholders, we need to help mitigate the risk for startups. We traditionally have not had a very robust venture capital market here, and that has been changing, with tremendous credit going to community, business and university leaders in the past 10 years.

    It’s important that we have enough financial resources at every stage to make sure that when startups have a great idea and a great team, they also can secure the resources to stay here in Ohio.

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